(I wrote this with lots of dialogue because I wanted to do it as a play.)
I honestly don’t know if the story I’m about to tell you is true or not. I believe wholeheartedly, well, most of the time, that it is. However, since I made no official report of it at the time and have not once since either spoken to or heard of any of the participants, I must admit to occasional doubts myself. But it is just too realistic to have been a dream. The details are way too, well, detailed. The people involved were too vivid not to be real. The story needs to be told and, real or not, the truths gleaned from its telling are far too valuable to keep to myself and are certainly worth your consideration. So, here is my story.
It happened, either for real or in my head, on Halloween night. As I said, I believe it really happened, so we’ll proceed from that viewpoint. Halloween was on a Friday that year. Not that it matters to the story, but it mattered to me at the time. It meant that I was only on call, not on duty and that not having to work the next day, I didn’t have to worry about being out late that night. I’m Chief Inspector of the Robbery – Homicide Division of a sprawling Midwest city.
Now, I’m not a wild reveler, but I do enjoy a variety of entertainments, and it being Halloween, had decided to attend a very interesting party at a friend’s. It was there that I received the call from headquarters.
I felt my cell phone vibrate in my pocket and took it out to see who was calling. It was indeed a call from the front desk, so I quickly exited the party to the back patio to take the call. I knew Sergeant James McGinness was at the desk so I answered, “Yeah, Mac. What’s up?”
Mac was a big Irishman who had seen more than his share of crimes over the years, but due to his age and some chronic ailments had gladly been reassigned to a desk job to finish out his time until retirement. “I knew you’d want this one,” he said and began to give me the sketchy details as he had been given them.
As Chief Inspector I only had to take certain calls when not on duty. There were three kinds of crimes I would be called about. Certainly, the crimes that were considered to be heinous, grisly, or sordid were mine. Secondly, I would be called to those that, at least on the surface of things, would appear to be virtually unsolvable. And then, as per my personal instructions to those who worked under me, I wished to be called to any crime whose details were so bizarre that I “just wouldn’t want to miss it!”
Mac said this case was one of those for sure. Whether it turned out to be either of the other kind remained to be seen. After giving me the basic details over the phone, Mac added, “I wish I was going on this one with you.”
I promised him all the details after I had learned them myself, excused myself to the host, and left the party. Mac had given me an address and I knew just where it was. I had never been there before, but had driven past it many times.
The address was 1200 Oakridge Drive. The drive was through an exclusive neighborhood on the outskirts of the city, named for a low rising wooded ridge that served to separate the neighborhood physically and visually from the city itself. The ridge was of course filled with large oak trees and the drive ran parallel to it, with several estates along either side. The larger estates were across the drive from the ridge rather than backing up to it. None of the larger ones were less than ten acres and 1200 Oakridge Drive was one of the largest.
It belonged to multi-millionaire Philip Paul Gadston who made his first million in computer software and then expanded into a wide variety of business ventures extending his fortune considerably. I had met the man once on the occasion of one of his many philanthropic endeavors. Though extremely wealthy, extremely busy, and seldom in town, Gadston was quite generous and much of that was local.
He was known, however, for the odd ways he chose to determine to whom and how much he would donate. The time I met him was when he donated money to build an inner city park in one of the less fortunate neighborhoods of our city. He promised to give a thousand dollars for every free throw that the worst basketball shooter in the neighborhood among its twelve year olds could make in the span of ten minutes. The whole neighborhood and half the city turned out to the old run-down park to watch.
A contest had been held earlier to determine the worst shooter and I was there as a representative of the city and one of those who would publicly thank Gadston for his donation. The kid was a scrawny little bookworm-looking boy who didn’t seem to know his way around the park, much less a basketball court. At the halfway point he had made twenty free throws and Gadston hollered out, “I’ll double it if you make fifty!”
The crowd roared and a few of the neighborhood ‘toughs’ ran out to help rebound for the boy and to cheer him on. It was an amazing thing to watch how the community seemed to come together all of a sudden and I suspect that is why Gadston had done it that way. Well, he had to donate one hundred thousand dollars that day! And I happen to know that later he gave even more.
Another time he offered to pay for the college tuition of the boy with the lowest Grade Point Average of his graduating high school class, provided the boy could graduate from college with at least a 2.75 GPA. The boy had to sign a promissory note that if he didn’t finish college or have at least that GPA when he did graduate, he would have his wages garnished at whatever job he did get until the debt incurred at that point was paid off. One young man took him up on the offer and the story goes that Gadston not only had to pay the four years of college tuition for the boy, but followed through to pay for the young man’s Master’s Degree. Today, he is the Chief Accountant in one of Gadston’s more lucrative enterprises!
This time, Gadston for some reason had chosen a Halloween party as the venue for one of his philanthropic whims. He wouldn’t even be there himself, as he was off gallivanting through Europe somewhere.
As I drove up the Bradford pear tree lined driveway to the house for the first time, I tried in the darkness of that Halloween night to take in all the details I could see. The drive was decently lit by the evenly spaced lampposts along either side, but most of the park-like lawn was too dark to see. As I approached the front of the house, the driveway widened and circled a flower garden with a lighted fountain in its center. A four-car detached garage sat off to the right as I came to the house and behind and to the right of that was a small, but neat cottage that I learned later housed the couple who served as caretakers of the estate, butler and cook. A chauffeur lived in a modest apartment above the garage, which they all called the carriage house. Since Gadston was away, the driver wouldn’t be needed and wasn’t even there that night.
I counted seven cars in the driveway, besides a squad car, and the whole house, both inside and out, was well lit. One of the officers met me as I got out of my car. He gave me a curious look and stifled a laugh before asking what I knew already. I told him and he said they had only just arrived a minute before me and didn’t know any more than I did. I told him to make a list of the cars by make and model and license number and confirm ownerships. I imagine you’re wondering why the curious look and stifled laugh from a fellow officer, especially an underling, but you’ll have to wait for it!
My investigation revealed the events and conversations that led to our being called there to Gadston’s estate that night, but I’ll tell them to you as they happened, rather than as answers to my questions.
Gadston had thrown a masquerade party to which he had invited only a few guests. He himself wouldn’t be there, but it would be hosted and served by his butler and cook. The party started at 8:00 p.m. and the circumstances that led to our being called at 10:00 had also led to everyone being out of the main parlor at the same time for the same reason, as you shall see.
At about 10:05, two of the guests re-entered the parlor discussing the events. Remember, it was a costume party. The cowboy spoke first, as he headed for the punch bowl to get another glass of punch, “I really don’t know what all the fuss is about,” he said. “Would you care for a glass?”
The young lady, probably about twenty years old, dressed in a cheerleader outfit replied that she would and then, in response to his first statement, said, “One of us is missing, that’s what all the fuss is about!”
The cowboy handed the cheerleader her glass of punch and took a sip of his own. “Not necessarily,” he replied. “Just because we don’t know where he is, doesn’t mean he is actually missing. We haven’t heard from the others yet and he could be found most anywhere in the house – or on the grounds.” He took another sip of punch and on a more personal note, said, “I like your outfit by the way,”
“Thank you,” she responded with a slightly flirtatious smile. “I’m Joan College tonight. Not only am I a cheerleader, but I represent ‘all things collegiate!’ She shook her head backwards and upwards, flipping her blond hair, and laughed a little. “And you?” she asked.
“I’m just a good ol’ cowboy,” he said. “Why, I’m the rootin’est, tootin’est, sharp shootin’est man the West has ever seen!” he added, with all the western sounding voice he could muster. “Why I can outride, outrope, outshoot and outlove anybody you’ve ever known!” he added with a wink. “And you can call me Rowdy.” All that talking must have made him thirsty, so he took another drink, then added in his natural tone of voice, “But I still say there’s nothing to get all excited about with our so-called missing guest.”
Joan took a drink of punch and said, “I hope you’re right.”
Just then Superman hopped into the room, planted his feet firmly in place and putting his hands on his hips stared straight at the cowboy and cheerleader and reported, “No sign of him anywhere in the house. We looked everywhere – and of course you know, I can even see through walls!”
Joan College turned to Rowdy and said, “See?! I told you he’s missing.”
Rowdy tried not to laugh at Superman’s’ behavior and report and asked, “Can you also see through costumes?”
Joan punched him in the arm, knowing full well what he was getting at. “Where are the others?” she asked, turning her face back toward the young man dressed as Superman. She couldn’t help but notice that he fit the part: tall, quite muscular, dark hair, blue eyes, and pearly white teeth that showed through a very nice smile. He noticed her notice him and that made him smile.
“They’ll be along in a second or two,” he said. Then he assumed his Superman persona and added, “Naturally, I’m faster than they are!”
Joan played along. “Oh, that’s right. Faster than a speeding bullet!” she quipped.
Rowdy quickly drew his Colt 45 from its holster and said, “Not one of my bullets!”
They all laughed as two more guests and the cook entered the room. The cook was around sixty years old with short grey hair. She was short, too and rather plump. She wore a nice white uniform dress with an apron still tied around her waist – it, too, was white, but had blue trim and some hand embroidered flowers of various colors and sizes on it. Her shoes matched her outfit; she had no hat. She waddled into the room ahead of the other two guests as if they were following her, but by now they were comfortable with their surroundings and just happened to still be walking behind her.
Mrs. Olga Hoffman, that was the cook’s name, nervously wiped her hands with her apron and silently shook her head to signal to the others that they hadn’t found the missing guest. Of course, Superman had already reported and he had been with that group.
Mrs. Hoffman had guided him and the other two as they searched the entire house. The other two guests entered the parlor behind her. It was a queen dressed in the fanciest of royal gowns and Little Bo Peep, shepherd’s crook and all!
Bo Peep spoke first, “We didn’t find him, nor see anything out of the ordinary.”
“Don’t worry,” mocked Rowdy. “He’ll come home, wagging his tail behind him.”
That remark brought another punch in the arm from Joan, showing her disapproval and veiled amusement. The queen spoke up with an authoritative tone saying, “Not funny, Rowdy!” They had apparently already been introduced to each other.
Superman chimed in, “Who do you think you are? The Queen of Sheba?”
To which she raised a dainty jewel-studded scepter and said quite majestically, “As a matter of fact, I am!” Her gown was a beautiful lavender color, full and floor-length, with sleeves that were puffy on the top, yet tapered to button snugly at her wrists. A sparkling tiara adorned her long silky black hair.
Bo Peep stepped back and curtseyed and said, “Thank you, ma-Lady.”
Joan College took another sip of her punch and asked the others what they all thought. No one had any real idea about the mysterious disappearance of one of the guests, though each in turn offered various harmless suggestions, such as “Maybe he wandered off out on the grounds somewhere,” or “He probably just tired of the party and went home without telling anyone.”
Someone suggested he might have gone out to his car for a break and fallen asleep, but Rowdy reported that he and Joan had checked all the cars, just to be sure, and there was no sign of him. Joan added that before Mr. Hoffman and Wolf had headed out to check the grounds, he had opened the carriage house for them to search and he wasn’t there either. The fact that he had to unlock the door suggested that they wouldn’t find anyone, but they looked just the same.
The Wolf that Joan had referred to came bounding through the front door about that time with Mr. Hoffman, the butler close behind him. The thirtyish young man in the wolf costume was carrying his wolf mask under one arm and his long bushy tail was draped over the other one. The mask was that of a cartoon-looking wolf with big sharp teeth and a long pink tongue hanging out its mouth and huge bugged out eyes. He was clearly the Big Bad Wolf! “Nothing!” was all he said as he went straight for the punch bowl, letting his tail drop to drag along behind him, now that he had cleared the front door.
His path to the punch bowl took him between the Queen and Bo Peep, forcing them to make room for him to pass. “Excuse me ladies,” he said as he eyed each one in turn on his way through. He then looked over at Joan and growled a little as he walked past her. Setting his wolf head on the table, he began to get himself a glass of punch and asked, “Anyone else want one?”
The Queen, in character, said, “You may serve me, Mr. Wolf,” and she stepped over closer to the table.
“You can call me Big Bad,” he replied as he dipped her a glass of punch. “Or just plain Bad, if you like,” he added with a wink as he handed her the glass. He downed his punch and got a refill.
“How about you, Fritzy?” he asked, looking past the others toward the butler. “We must’ve walked a couple of miles out there.”
Fritz replied, “No thank you, sir,” and walked over to stand next to his wife.
Wolf was working on his second glass of punch when Bo Peep asked, “So did you find him – or anything?”
Wolf lowered his glass to report, “Not a thing. And we covered a lot of ground out there. Fritzy got us flashlights and we hollered all around – but nothing.”
Fritz spoke up. “There is lots of ground out there and plenty of places one could hide if one wanted not to be found, but we saw no sign of anyone anywhere,” he reported, sounding rather stiff and formal.
The Queen sipped her punch daintily, and then asked, “Now what?”
Rowdy said, “I suggest we forget about him and go on with the party. It’s clear he just left.”
Superman said, “But you checked the cars. How many were out there?”
Joan spoke up first saying, “Seven. And there are six of us here.”
Superman looked at Fritz and Olga and asked, “What about your vehicles?”
Fritz replied that their personal auto was parked by their quarters and Mr. Gadston’s collection was all accounted for in the carriage house. He said the chauffeur had his own car, but had left yesterday in it and wasn’t due back for two more days. The seventh car was strange to him.
Rowdy pulled a slip of paper out of his shirt pocket and held it out. “You all told us which car was yours before we went out to check them and they’re all there, plus one,” he said with an air of finality on the matter.
But Joan added her two cents worth anyway. “So the other car must belong to our missing guest.”
“What was he supposed to be anyway?” asked Wolf.
“I don’t know,” said the Queen. “With that white outfit, I thought maybe he was a doctor or something.”
Superman said he thought maybe the guy was supposed to be one of those orderlies that come take people away to the nut house.
Bo Peep added, “His costume was so bright it almost scared me when I first saw him. I figured maybe he was supposed to be a ghost. But his manner put me at ease right away.”
Joan agreed with Bo Peep and added that he was a real gentleman. “Not at all like the guys at school,” she said.
Wolf took that personally and spoke up for himself. “I don’t know about that. He sat right there with me and let me go on and on about – well, girls.”
Sensing that the honors of her and the other two female guests may have been besmirched, Joan asked “What girls?”
Bo Peep joined in asking, “Yeah, Wolfie, what girls?”
The Big Bad Wolf hesitated, then replied, “Well, if you must know, you girls.”
“And did he chime in with you?” asked the Queen.
“Not exactly,” said Wolf, “but he did agree that you all looked good tonight.”
“Is that all?” asked Joan.
“Well, he kept trying to talk about relationships and all and said exactly how we ought to treat women – with respect and kindness and such.”
“Oh?” said Joan trying to get more from the Wolf.
“Yeah, and he said there was nothing like being in a loving, caring, intimate relationship with the right one,” said Wolf and to show he was through talking he sat down and worked on a sandwich.
The Queen looked at the other two girls and said simply, “A gentleman.” They all agreed.
Superman spoke up. “I don’t know about that, but I had a good little talk with him myself. He was friendly enough, but a little strange.”
“What was strange about him – I mean besides that shiny white costume?” asked Bo Peep.
“Well, he asked me a lot about myself – you know, what I do for a living, how I spend my spare time, what my interests are…”
The Queen interrupted Superman with a mocking tone and said, “Boy that is strange. Imagine anyone polite enough to ask about the other person instead of only talking about himself.”
“No, that’s not it,” objected Superman. “We just didn’t see eye to eye at all.”
“So what did you tell him?” asked Joan.
“Oh, I told him how I’m starting to get all the things I’ve always wanted – a nice car, a big TV, nice stuff, you know. And I can afford to go to all the nice places. After all, I work hard and I work smart and I’m going places.”
Joan didn’t think the gentleman would have agreed so she asked, “And did he agree with all that?”
Superman hesitated a little, then replied, “No, not really. He said none of those things were bad, but I just shouldn’t put such emphasis on them. There were more important things in life, he said. Aah, he just didn’t get it.” Then he stepped back a little toward the punch table, as if to yield the floor to anyone else.
The Queen took the cue and spoke up. “I don’t know what to think of him either.” She waved her scepter in the direction of the double doors that led to the patio. They were closed now that the late hour had ushered in the cool October breeze. “We chatted over by the patio doors for awhile. At first we talked about the costumes, the colors, and the way each of you reacted to each other – the looks and the gestures, not just the words. He seemed to understand a lady’s point of view – most men don’t.”
Rowdy interrupted her asking, “So that makes him a great guy?”
“Well, no actually. He was right with me on the costumes and colors, but he was careful not to say anything judgmental about anyone. That makes him a great guy!”
“I agree with the Queen and Joan,” said Bo Peep. “Definitely a gentleman. Like I said, I was almost scared by the brightness of that costume at first. I thought maybe he was supposed to be a ghost – but he didn’t have anything over his face – and ghosts don’t smile, do they?”
Rowdy gave his cavalier answer to that, saying “I guess it depends on what they’re thinking about!”
“Yeah,” said Wolf. “You can be mean and still smile.”
“You should know,” chided Joan. “Go on, Bo. Did you think he was mean like a ghost?”
“Not at all. We talked about kids – I have two you know – and how I have to juggle work and day care and raising the kids by myself and still try to have some alone time. He seemed to understand how hard it is for me without a husband. I felt like he really cared.”
Rowdy almost interrupted her, but she finished just as the cowboy offered his opinion. “I really couldn’t say what the ol’ boy was, but I do agree he was a nice guy. He asked me what I liked to do and how I spent my time. He asked me what bars I go to and what kinda music I listen to – stuff like that.”
Fritz Hoffman finally stepped forward and spoke up. “Well, I never even saw the guest myself – ghost or doctor or whatever he was. And it appears that you all are divided on whether he was a gentleman or not and you give compelling reasons for your opinions. The fact remains, though, that the guest in the bright white suit has vanished. I took the liberty of informing the police a few minutes ago and they should be arriving shortly.” (To be continued…Trick or Treat – Part 2 ) ( 3 ) ( 4 ) ( 5 ) ( Conclusion! )